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The KEY to designing your own science fair project is …

Posted by on October 23, 2012

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So you have to do a science fair project and there are plenty of websites that will give you detailed, step-by-step directions like a recipe for a cake – but, that’s not “real science”.

If you have found your way to my website – I hope you are at least thinking about designing your own project!!

The key to designing your own project is NOT to start with the question – even though that seems like a good place to start – but rather to start with the DEPENDENT VARIABLE!!

Remember that the DEPENDENT VARIABLE must be quantitative — That means it can be measured in numbers (as opposed to qualitative variables that are described with adjectives).

So figure out what can you measure???

What might you have access to that other students do not? Think about what your mom does, what your dad does, what your neighbors do, what your teachers might have in their classrooms and try to identify something unique. Pretty much ANYTHING that measures something such that you end up with a NUMBER – will do.

Here are some things to think about:

You could measure…
• size or a change in size: weight, height, length, volume, area, perimeter, diameter
• speed (= distance / time)
• concentration (= # / volume)
• density (= mass/volume)
• frequency (how often something happens)
• angles and/or direction
• percent coverage, percent change (loss or increase)
• and many other things like temperature, humidity, light, sound, pH, wind speed, direction, water quality, tidal height, heart rate, blood pressure, reaction time

Now you need to figure out an INDEPENDENT VARIABLE can be either quantitative or qualitative (but quantitative would be best).

Examples of qualitative variables would include:
• color: red, blue, green, yellow, orange
• male/female
• small, medium, large
• slow, medium, fast
• high, low
• old, young
• labels for groupings: A, B, C, D, E
• any type of category

NOW form your question: How does the independent variable effect the dependent variable?

Your experiment will involve CHANGING the independent and MEASURING the dependent.

Good Luck! The best part will be when the judge asks “where did you get the idea?” (and they will ask!) – you will be able to say “I designed it myself!”

3 Responses to The KEY to designing your own science fair project is …

  1. Debbie

    My 3rd grade daughter is doing a science fair project. Her hypotheses is that you can blow bigger bubbles with Bazooka Joe than you can with Big Leagues Chew, Bubble Tape or Bubblicious. The independent variable are the brands of bubble gum and the dependent variable is the size of the bubble. Her project is due on March 6th. This is as far as we’ve got. Can you please let me know if you have any thoughts or ideas with regard to the experiment/presentation. Any and all thoughts would be SO very appreciated! Thank you!

    • Dr. Maille Lyons

      Great idea for 3rd grade because it’s fun!

      The biggest “issue” to tackle is how to standardize the bubble blowing. In other words, how will you know that the biggest bubbles were due to the brand (her independent variable) and not other, hard to control variables like, the plasticity/elasticity of the gum (i.e. how long she chewed it) or the strength of her blowing?

      Ways around those problems might be to set up a detailed procedure where she chews a new piece of gum 50 times before blowing and/or maybe using a balloon pump to create the same amount of “breath” each time (i.e. don’t have her blow bubbles, but use the pump to “blow” them. Also, make sure she is using the same amount of gum so that “amount of gum” doesn’t also interfere with the results.

      • Dr. Maille Lyons

        One more thing – whenever you have a variable that is hard to standardize (like blowing the bubble) you should do as many repetitions as practical. Usually you would want a minimum of 3 trials in any given experiment, but in this case (since she blowing a bubble and that is easy and quick) she should do each bubble (with a new piece of gum) at least 10 times.

        Good Luck!

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